Category Archives: Food Safety

Mar 3 2014
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Public Health: The Food Issue

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This month the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published a special issue of its magazine devoted to food. There weren’t any recipes, unless you count “recipes” for a healthier planet, which can be reached by following some of the recommendations in the supplement.

“Changing what we eat is more complex than it sounds,” writes the school’s dean, Michael Klag, MD, MPH. “It involves not just personal choice but also changing methods of food production and delivery systems so that the right choice becomes the default choice. A new ‘Green Revolution’ that relies on sustainable methods of food production will require partnerships of farmers, agronomists, development agencies and policymakers. Interventions to change the norms of what we eat must be culturally appropriate, and take into account the context of nutritional needs within the population. Such interventions will require partners who understand human and plant biology, behavior, economics and policy. This type of multidisciplinary, population-based effort is a centerpiece of public health...”

Key features of the issue include:

Read the Special Food Issue of the Magazine of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

Feb 3 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: February 3

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Study: HPV Vaccine Doesn’t Lead to More, Riskier Sex for Young Women
Despite the concerns of some parents, being vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV)—which causes cervical cancer—does not increase young women’s sexual behavior, either in terms of the number of partners or the decision not to use condoms, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers studied 339 women between the ages of 13 and 14, finding that after receiving the first vaccine most agreed it was still necessary to generally practice safe sex. On a scale from zero to 10, where lower scores indicate better understanding of risks, they scored an average of 1.6 on knowledge about safe sex practices. They also scored a 3.9 on their perceptions of the risk of sexually transmitted infections. "To me, the issue is laid to rest," said Jessica Kahn, MD, of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio. "As clinicians and researchers, we have no concerns that vaccination will lead to riskier sexual behaviors." The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends HPV vaccinations for both boys and girls. Read more on sexual health.

CDC Set to Launch 2014 ‘Tips From Former Smokers’ Campaign
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is set to launch the 2014 phase of "Tips From Former Smokers" (Tips), its annual television, radio and print campaign. The campaign will include Terrie Hall, the then 52-year-old Lexington, N.C., woman shown in a previous ad who had ultimately had her voice box removed as a result of throat cancer caused by a two-pack-a-day habit for 23 years. She since died of tobacco-related illness. "Over 20 million Americans have died because of smoking since 1964...But when you talk about a number that big, people have no way to put their hands around it,” said Tim McAfee, MD, the Atlanta-based director of the CDC's office on smoking and health."So we thought that for smokers and non-smokers, we needed to put a face on this. Because we felt that if we gave the American people an opportunity to get to know the suffering one person has had to go through because of smoking, it could have an enormous impact." Read more on tobacco.

FDA Proposes New Sanitation Rules for Food in Transport
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed new regulations to improve sanitation and prevent contamination of human and animal food during transportation by both motor vehicles and rail. The new rule would be the final major rule in the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act’s central framework. “We are now one step closer to fully implementing the comprehensive regulatory framework for prevention that will strengthen the FDA’s inspection and compliance tools, modernize oversight of the nation’s food safety system, and prevent foodborne illnesses before they happen,” said Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. The new criteria would address areas such as properly refrigerating food, adequately cleaning vehicles between loads and properly protecting food during transportation. Read more on food safety.

Jan 28 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: January 28

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Obese Children More Susceptible to Air Pollution-Related Asthma
Obese children are more susceptible to air pollution-related asthma, according to a new study in the journal Environmental Research. Researchers followed the health of 311 children, ages 5 and 6, in predominantly Dominican and African-American neighborhoods of New York City, finding that high exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)—a family of air pollutants—was only associated with asthma among obese children The study determined that obese children exposed to the PAH chemicals 1-methylphenanthrene and 9- methylphenanthrene were two to three times more likely to have asthma. PAHs are emitted by vehicles, cigarette smoke, cooking, incense, burning candles and various other indoor sources. Two possible explanations for the disparity are that obese children tend to be less active, so are more likely to be exposed to indoors sources of PAH, and that they may breathe more rapidly than children of healthier weights Better understanding of the risk factors opens the door to more targeted interventions. “These findings suggest that we may be able to bring down childhood asthma rates by curbing indoor, as well as outdoor, air pollution and by implementing age-appropriate diet and exercise programs,” said senior author Rachel Miller, MD, professor of medicine (in pediatrics) and environmental health sciences, and co-deputy director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health. Read more on pediatrics.

Report: Antibiotics Dangerous to Humans Still Used in Livestock
Despite knowing their risk to humans, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to allow the use of certain antibiotics as additives in animal feed and water, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council based on documents acquired under the Freedom of Information Act. In a review from 2001 to 2010 the FDA concluded that 30 such antibiotics posed a significant risk of exposing people to antibiotic- resistance bacteria. The drugs were approved for “non-therapeutic” use in farm animals, such as preventing disease or promoting growth of the animals, instead of treating specific illnesses. In December the FDA announced its intention to combat the spread of antibacterial resistance by prohibiting the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animals for food production purposes, while also adding veterinary oversight to therapeutic use of the drugs in animals. Read more on food safety.

Residents of Public Housing Developments, Rental Assistance Units See Significant Gap in Oral Health Care
People who live in public housing developments and rental assistance units are less likely to have routine preventive dental care and more likely to have suffered serious oral health issues related to tooth loss, according to a new study in The Journal of Urban Health. The study was conducted by the Partners in Health and Housing Prevention Research Center (PHH-PRC) at the Boston University School of Public Health. The researchers looked at four indicators for people living in Boston’s publicly supported housing: having had a dental visit in the last year, having had a dental cleaning in the last year, having had six or more teeth extracted, and having dental insurance. They found that people in public housing, despite being as likely to have had a dental visit in the past year, were significantly less likely to have had a cleaning. The gap in health care is especially serious for the seniors in this already vulnerable population: Compared to younger residents, seniors 65-75 years old were 30 times as likely to have had six or more teeth removed. Read more on prevention.

Dec 16 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 16

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UC Santa Barbara Might Use Unapproved Vaccine to Combat Meningitis Outbreak
Health officials confirmed late last week that they are considering administering the unapproved vaccine Bexsero to halt the spread of a bacterial meningitis outbreak that has sickened four students at UC Santa Barbara. Three of the students have recovered fully, with the fourth requiring the amputation of both feet. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with the California state and Santa Barbara County departments of public health to determine whether the vaccine would be effective against the strain; Bexsero, which is not yet approved for use in the United States, is for type B meningococcal disease. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently granted Princeton University permission to use the vaccine, after eight students became sick from a similar strain of what has struck UC Santa Barbara. Read more on infectious disease.

AAP Calls for Ban on U.S. Sale of Raw or Unpasteurized Milk
The risk of infection has led the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on Infectious Diseases and Committee on Nutrition to not only recommend against the consumption of raw or unpasteurized milk by pregnant women, babies and kids, but to call for the complete ban of its sale in the United States. Pasteurization kills bacteria by heating the milk to a minimum of 161 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 seconds before cooling it quickly; at least 97 percent of U.S. dairy products are pasteurized. From 1998 through 2011 there were 148 disease outbreaks related to raw milk or raw milk products, leading to 284 hospitalizations and two deaths. "It's kind of like riding in a car with seatbelts," said Kathryn Boor, dean of Cornell University’s school’s Agriculture and Life Sciences, who was not involved in the study. "If you've got the opportunity for a safety barrier, which would be pasteurization, why wouldn't you use it?" Read more on food safety.

Study: Lack of Sleep in Kids Increases Blood Pressure
Lack of adequate sleep can lead to higher blood pressure even in children who are a healthy weight, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Monitoring 143 Chinese youth in a sleep lab, the researchers determined that one fewer hour of sleep per night increased systolic blood pressure by 2 millimeters of mercury (mm/Hg) and diastolic blood pressure by 1 mm/Hg. All of the participants, ages 10-18, were normal weight and did not have sleep apnea. "Pediatricians must screen for diabetes, and [high blood pressure] in teenagers with sleep loss besides screening for snoring and sleep apnea in obese teenagers," said Sanjeev Kothare, MD, a pediatric sleep expert at NYU Langone Medical Center, who was not involved in the study. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 10-11 hours of sleep per night for children ages 5-12, and at least 8.5 hours per night for teenagers. Read more on pediatrics.

Dec 11 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 11

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2013 America’s Health Rankings Finds Significant Progress in National Health
The new 2013 America’s Health Rankings from the United Health Foundation finds that while there is still much progress to be made, over the past year Americans improved in the majority of the measures that the Rankings use to rate public health. The improved areas include smoking rates, which fell to 19.6 percent of the adult population, from 21.2 percent the previous year, as well as physical inactivity, which fell to 22.9 percent from 26.2 percent. Also, for the first time since 1998 the obesity rate did not rise. With low rates of uninsured people, high rates of childhood immunization and low rates of health issues such as obesity and smoking, Hawaii ranked as the healthiest state in the country. Read more on community health.

FDA to Phase Out Use of Certain Antimicrobials in Food Animals
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is moving forward with a plan to combat the spread of antibacterial resistance by prohibiting the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animals for food production purposes, while also adding veterinary oversight to therapeutic use of the drugs in animals. Antimicrobials can be used in the food and drinking water of cattle, poultry and other food animals to encourage weight gain. However, these same antimicrobials are used to treat infections in humans, and their availability in the food supply increases the possibility of the development of antimicrobial resistance. The FDA is giving companies three months to sign on to the strategy, then three years to transition. “This action promotes the judicious use of important antimicrobials to protect public health while ensuring that sick and at-risk animals receive the therapy they need,” said Bernadette Dunham, DVM, PhD, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. “We realize that these steps represent changes for veterinarians and animal producers, and we have been working—and will continue to work—to make this transition as seamless as possible.” Read more on food safety.

HHS: 365,000 Enrolled Under Affordable Care Act in October, November
The official numbers are in, with almost 365,000 people selecting plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace in October and November, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. About 1.9 million people have gone through the online process, but have just not yet selected a plan, while more than 800,000 were determined eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The site went live at the beginning of October, but extensive bugs and glitches meant only about 27,000 people were able to sign up in that first month. Last week a reconfigured HealthCare.gov was launched after about five weeks of work spent addressing the problems, and 29,000 people were able to sign up during the first two days alone. Thirty-six states use HealthCare.gov, with fourteen states and Washington, D.C. maintaining their own sites. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Nov 27 2013
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Think Safety as Thanksgiving—and Holiday Shopping—Approaches

file Photo Credit: tshein, via Flickr

Among the best pieces of advice people can look to today, the day before Thanksgiving, is a primer on safe food preparation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, including a video on just how to stuff that turkey.

Additionally, when it comes to safety this holiday season, there are also ways to help keep yourself and your purchases safe as Thanksgiving morphs into Black Friday. Tech guru Shelly Palmer reported recently that, according to the New York City police department, 14 percent of crime in that city is linked to Apple computer products, while police in other cities note technology thefts of all kinds as the holiday shopping season gets into full swing. Apple is alerting buyers of the latest model iPhones that the devices now come with a security feature that requires a User ID and password to disable the "Find my Phone" feature, which helps police track down stolen phones. Tech experts say widespread use of the Apple feature can help deter theft--and possible harm--during a robbery.

Another thing to be aware of this shopping season, when people will be out and about on busy streets, is what's come to be known as the "Knockout Game," where the goal is knock a random person unconscious with a single punch. CNN and other news outlets have posted stories about reports of random violence in several U.S. and foreign cities, and at least one city is considering punishing juveniles found guilty of the attack as an adult rather than a child--which can mean years of jail time. However, The New York Times recently added its voice to the growing national discussion with a story questioning whether the "game" is in fact an urban myth, saying that it's possible these assaults are random acts of violence, and that even New York City police officials are still trying to determine the truth.

Nonetheless, while questions over the "game" remain, the assaults are very real. According to CNN, a police spokesman in Pittsburgh says people who appear distracted--such as those checking phones or listening to music through headphones--may be more vulnerable to attacks.

>>Bonus Link: The National Crime Prevention Council offers tips on safe holiday shopping, including shopping with a friend for added security.

Nov 7 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: November 7

FDA Takes Another Step to Reduce Consumption of Trans Fats
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has taken another step to reduce American’s consumption of trans fats with a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are not “generally recognized as safe” for use in food. PHOs are the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods. Up next is a 60-day comment period to collect more information and input on exactly what it would take for food manufacturers to reformulate products so that they do not include PHOs. “While consumption of potentially harmful artificial trans fat has declined over the last two decades in the United States, current intake remains a significant public health concern,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “The FDA’s action today is an important step toward protecting more Americans from the potential dangers of trans fat. Further reduction in the amount of trans fat in the American diet could prevent an additional 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year—a critical step in the protection of Americans’ health.” Read more on food safety.

Lack of Light Disrupts Sleep Cycles During Hospital Stays, Increases Patient Discomfort
Hospital stays may be even more uncomfortable for most patients than necessary because of an overall lack of adequate light, according to a new study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing. The small study found that lower levels of daytime light exposure were connected to worse mood, as well as more fatigue and pain, in patients. The poor light interfered with their bodies’ ability to adopt a normal sleep-wake cycle. Researchers found the lowest levels of daytime light exposure were tied to worse mood and more fatigue and pain among patients, compared to those whose rooms were better-lit during the day. "Until now, no one has looked at the associations among light and outcomes such as sleep, mood and pain experienced in the hospital," said Esther Bernhofer, lead author of the study and a nurse researcher at the Cleveland Clinic's Nursing Institute. "This study forms a basis for testing future lighting interventions to improve sleep-wake patterns, mood and pain in hospitalized adults.” Read more on mental health.

Study: No Link Between IVF, Increased Risk of Cancer in Kids
Despite years of concerns, a new study on in vitro fertilization (IVF) found no link between the conception technique and an increased risk of cancer in children. The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers analyzed data on more than 106,000 children born through assisted reproduction between 1992 and 2008, finding the risk of them developing cancer was "the same as naturally conceived children," according to lead researcher Alastair Sutcliffe, MD, a specialist in general pediatrics at the University College London. More than 5 million children have been born through IVF since the first successful birth in 1978. "This study is extremely reassuring and should relieve anybody's anxiety about IVF," concluded Lawrence Grunfeld, MD, an associate clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science at the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine, in New York City. Read more on cancer.

Oct 31 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 31

New York City Council Votes to Raise Tobacco-purchasing Age to 21
With studies repeatedly showing that the earlier someone begins smoking, the more likely they are to become addicted, the New York City Council has voted to raise the age minimum required to buy tobacco products from to 21 years, up from 18 years. The bill passed 35-11. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has already announced he will sign the bill. The law would apply to all tobacco products, including cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, cigars and cigarillos. “This is literally legislation that will save lives,” said Christine C. Quinn, the Council speaker, according to The New York Times. The Council also voted to increase the penalties for retailers who evade tobacco taxes; for a prohibition on discounts for tobacco products; and for a minimum price of $10.50 a pack for cigarettes and little cigars. Read more on tobacco.

Analysis: Sports-related Youth Concussion Diagnoses Climbing
The growing number of diagnosed concussions in young athletes and their reluctance to admit when they have suffered a head injury—despite ever-growing awareness of the dangers of concussions—demonstrates the need for sports leagues and government agencies to become more active in preventing traumatic brain injuries, according to a new report from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. In 2009, about 250,000 youth ages 5-21 were treated for sports-related concussions and other brain injuries in U.S. hospitals, up from approximately 150,000 in 2001. The analysis pointed to Hannah Steenhuysen, a high school soccer goalie in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, as an example of why relying on youth to report their head injuries on their own is not always an effective strategy. "You don't tell anyone usually when you get a headache because you don't want to be out of the game," she said. "I couldn't watch TV or text or even read—it was really tough. When I tried to go back to school, I couldn't keep up and everything got jumbled in my head." Read more on injury prevention.

Tips for Kids with Food Allergies on Halloween
Trick-or-treating and Halloween parties can be difficult for kids with food allergies. However, there are steps both kids and parents can take to make sure kids with food allergies still have a full night of fun, according to Joyce Rabbat, MD, a pediatric allergy specialist with the Loyola University Health System, in Chicago. "The key is education,” she said. “Make sure your child knows what he or she can eat. When in doubt, throw it out." Among her tips:

  • Plan parties and events that do not include food, candy or other edible treats.
  • Inform the host of any Halloween party if your child has a food allergy. You can also provide a list of foods that may trigger an allergic reaction.
  • Clean all cooking utensils, pans or other dishes if they have been in contact with a food allergen. Also make sure to wipe down surfaces.
  • Read labels to find out whether foods contain allergens or have been made on the same machine as other products that contain an allergen.
  • Carry self-injectable epinephrine.

Read more on food safety.

Oct 28 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 28

Pediatricians: Parent’s Religion Should Not Stand in the Way of Child’s Medical Care
While noting that parents have the right to determine a child’s medical care, a parent’s religious beliefs should not stand in the way of necessary medical care when the child is at risk for serious disability or death, according to a new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Bioethics. The organization is also calling for a repeal of all state exemptions to child abuse and neglect laws, as well as an end to funding for any religious or spiritual healing. "I think it's important that all children get appropriate medical care, that state policies should be clear about the obligations to provide this care and that state monies directed toward medical care should be used for established and effective therapies," said Armand Antommaria, MD, directors of the Ethics Center at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio and one of the statement’s lead authors. Many religious groups currently decline mainstream and proven medical treatments. For example, Christian Scientists advocate prayer over medical treatment, and Jehovah’s Witnesses opposed blood transfusions. Read more on pediatrics

Study: Low-cost Football Gear as Effective as High-tech, High-cost Equipment at Preventing Head Injuries
A group of experts has performed an extensive study to determine which football helmets and mouth guards are best at preventing youth concussions: none of them. The researchers compared high-tech and custom equipment to low-cost, off-the-shelf equipment, finding no difference in the number of concussions for 1,300 players at 36 high schools during the 2012 football season. There are approximately 40,000 sports-related concussions in U.S. high schools every year. "We're certainly not saying that helmets and mouth guards aren't important. They do what they are supposed to do. Mouth guards prevent dental injuries, and helmets prevent skull fractures and scalp and face lacerations," said Margaret Alison Brooks, MD, the study's lead co-investigator. "But I don't think the manufacturing companies have the data to support [the claim that] if a parent buys a specific model, their child will have a reduced risk of concussion." The findings will be presented today at an American Academy of Pediatrics meeting in Orlando, Fla. Read more on injury prevention.

FDA: Recall of Certain Kraft and Polly-O String Cheese Products
Kraft Foods Group has announced a voluntary recall of some varieties of Kraft and Polly-O String Cheese and String Cheese Twists products because they might spoil before their “Best When Use By” code dates. Approximately 735,000 cases of the product will be affected throughout the United States, each with code dates between October 25, 2013 and February 11, 2014. Kraft announced the recall after receiving several reports of premature spoilage and ceasing the production and distribution of the questionable products. For full refunds, customers can return the products to the store where they were purchased or call Kraft Foods Consumer Relations at 1-800-816-9432 between 9 am and 6 pm (Eastern). Read more on food safety.

Oct 14 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 14

Study: Erratic Bedtimes Linked to Kids’ Behavior Problems
Children with erratic bedtimes also exhibit more behavior problems at home and at school, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers analyzed date on more than 10,000 children who were part of long-term sleep studies, finding that kids without a regular bedtime scored worse on a measure of behavior problems including acting unhappy, getting into fights and being inconsiderate. "If you are constantly changing the amounts of sleep you get or the different times you go to bed, it's likely to mess up your body clock," said study leader Yvonne Kelly, from University College London. "That has all sorts of impacts on how your body is able to work the following day," Kelly, from University College London.” However, the researchers also found that when a child went from no set bedtime to a scheduled bedtime, their behavior improved. Read more on pediatrics.

Overweight Teens at Increased Risk of Later Esophageal Cancer
People who are overweight or obese as teens have nearly twice the risk of developing esophageal cancer later in life when compared to their peers with healthy weights, according to a new study in the journal Cancer. The study also found that social status, economic status and education levels can all be factors in the development of gastric cancers; poor teens are at twice the risk of developing stomach cancer, as are teens with nine years of fewer of education. The study included more than 1 million male Israeli teens. "We look at obesity as dangerous from cardiovascular aspects at ages 40 and over, but here we can see that it has effects much earlier," said study author Zohar Levi, MD, of the Rabin Medical Center in Israel. However, the study did not prove cause-and-effect, so further research is needed to determine whether losing weight or gaining higher social or economic status later in life can reduce the risks. Read more on cancer.

USDA: California Plants Linked to Salmonella Can Stay Open
After making “immediate substantive changes to their slaughter and processing,” three California poultry processing plants tied to a salmonella outbreak in 17 states will remain open, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has determined. The plants will implement new food safety controls and the USDA will monitor the plants products for the next three months. The outbreak has sickened 278 people since May; the normal hospitalization rate is about 20 percent, but antibiotic resistance means about 42 percent of the people sickened in this outbreak were hospitalized. Read more on food safety.